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Theatre / Mamma Mia!

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"Typical, isn't it? You wait 20 years for a dad and then three come along at once. "

Mamma Mia! is a hit stage musical based around the music of ABBA.

The show is set on the fictional Greek island of Kalokairi, where 20-year-old Sophie is just about to marry her fiance Sky. However, she is conflicted because she doesn't know who her father is, and finds three potential suspects from her hotelier mother Donna's old diary: Sam, Bill, and Harry. Not wanting to marry without knowing her father, Sophie invites all three men to the wedding without her mother's knowledge.

As the wedding approaches, Sophie's Honorary Aunts and Donna's old friends Tanya and Rosie arrive just in time to support Donna in her time of need: after all, what is a woman to do when three of her exes show up at once, while she's trying to put a wedding together?

Sing, that's what.

The show made its West End debut in 1999, and opened on Broadway in 2001. Since then an estimated 65 million people have seen it worldwide and it is currently the sixth longest running musical on the West End. A film version starring Amanda Seyfried as Sophie and Meryl Streep as Donna was released in 2008.

Mamma Mia contains examples of:

  • Adaptation Distillation:
    • For legal reasons, productions licensed by Music Theatre International (both professional and amateur) are urged not to resemble the original West End or Broadway productions (or the film) aesthetically. MTI's licensed version is considered a separate adaptation of the show, despite the script being identical. Productions licensed for non-English-speaking countries that previously hosted an original production are also not allowed to use the existing translations for the musical numbers.
    • The most extreme example of this is the 2017 Hollywood Bowl production. Many iconic elements of the show were dropped or drastically changed, including Donna's signature overalls (swapped for a T-shirt and khakis), the male ensemble's wetsuits and flippers during "Lay All Your Love On Me", the concentric circle dance in "Voulez Vous", and Donna and the Dynamos' costumes, which more closely resembled pirate costumes rather than the brightly-colored jumpsuits.
  • Adaptational Nationality: Bill was originally Australian in the stage show, and then became Swedish in the film, due to a Swedish actor being cast to play him. Somewhere along the line, Bill being Australian in the stage show got dropped, and he just ended up coming from wherever the actor who was portraying him at the time came from instead, probably to avoid the actors involved having to actually put on an Australian accent, which could go one of two ways…
  • Alphabetical Theme Naming: Sophie's three potential dads are Austin (or Anderson), Bright, and Carmichael.
  • Ambiguously Bi: Harry. He drops hints that he has a partner, but never mentions their gender, and the script is vague enough that it could be taken as either sex, at home. He states that he loves Donna, but the audience then find out at the end that Donna was the only woman he ever loved, and that is partner back home is a man called Lawrence.
  • Ambiguous Time Period: The stage version is indirectly stated to take place in 2000. While the year of Donna's diary entries is not mentioned in the film, the stage version has Sophie point out that the diary is from 1979, and as the three potential fathers recount their last encounters with Donna, all three of them say that they last saw her "21 years ago". In the first year of the London production, the diary was from 1978, which set the musical in the then-present year 1999. After 2000, the diary remained dated 1979 likely to avoid leaving the 1970s decade. Sky also mentions the drachma ("You have to move with the times, Donna. No more drachmas under the mattress."), Greece's currency prior to the Euro replacing it in 2001.
  • Audience Participation: On stage, audience members are encouraged to sing, clap, and dance along, especially at the end when Donna, Tanya, Rosie, Bill, Harry and Sam come back onto the stage in their 70s-style jumpsuits and platform boots for their final bows. About a month and a half after the film's U.S. release, Universal shipped out a "sing-along" version with the lyrics appearing on screen.
  • Book Ends: The show starts and ends with Sophie singing "I Have A Dream."
  • Bouquet Toss: During the wedding scene, Donna tosses the wedding bouquet. Tanya catches it and is thrilled at first... until she sees that Pepper is even more thrilled. Tanya promptly throws the bouquet to Rosie, who throws it back to Tanya. The two women play hot potato with the bouquet until Rosie decides to give it to the orchestra conductor.
  • Breaking the Fourth Wall: During the song "I Do, I Do, I Do", Rosie hands her camera to the orchestra conductor to take a photo of the cast. At the end of the song, Rosie throws the wedding bouquet to the conductor after she and Tanya refused it. In some productions, it gets thrown into the audience instead.
  • Bride and Switch: During the song "Under Attack", a nightmare sequence, Sophie's three potential dads walk an unknown bride across the stage. The bride lifts the veil and turns to the audience to reveal that it's Sky.
  • Cleaning Up Romantic Loose Ends: Pretty much the entire "Take A Chance On Me" sequence, where Rosie finally gets Bill.
  • Cross-Cast Role: Father Alexandrios, the priest who officiates the wedding, can optionally be played by a female.
  • Double-Meaning Title: Everyone knows the musical is named for the song, Mamma Mia, which is about being cheated on. But then, the musical is also about the relationship between a mother and her daughter, in the Adriatic Sea no less.
  • Dub Name Change: In the Spain and Mexico productions, Bill is "Bruno", Harry is "Javi", and Pepper is "Chili". In the Dutch production, Bill and Rosie were renamed "Bart" and "Roos", respectively, and Ali was renamed "Ellie". Most foreign productions change the dads' surnames as well.
  • Exotic Backdrop Setting: The show could take place in a B&B on a wet Scottish island with no harm to the story for all the Greek culture and history that exists within the narrative.
  • Extremely Short Timespan: Not counting the prologue, which takes place three months before everything else, the whole show takes place over two days, with the intermission (if you're watching the stage version) taking place overnight.
  • Fat and Skinny: Rosie is often played by a heavyset (or at least stout) actress, while Tanya is often played by a tall and skinny actress, with Donna usually somewhere in between. This is not crucial to the story, however.
  • Genki Girl: Sophie, and the older women despite their age, are quite energetic.
  • Gigantic Moon: In the stage musical, one of these appears during the final number "I Have a Dream", silhouetting Sophie and Sky as they walk offstage at the end.
  • Greek Chorus: Literally! A chorus of Greek extras chimes in as the background vocals during the musical numbers, and it is staged in a way that looks like they're commenting on the characters' predicaments.
  • Gut Feeling: Sophie hopes she will work out which one of the three men is her Dad by just knowing when she sees him. It doesn’t work, and she still hasn’t a clue by the end of the show either.
  • Honorary Uncle: Rosie and Tanya are "Auntie Rosie" and "Auntie Tanya" to Sophie. They're her mother's closest friends and knew her growing up. In the beginning she greets both fondly.
  • "I Want" Song: "I Have a Dream" (both versions) for Sophie, "Money, Money, Money" for Donna.
  • If It's You, It's Okay: This might be the case with Donna and her ex- lover Harry, who comes out as gay and nodding flirtatiously at his boyfriend in the crowd but still acknowledging Donna as "the first and last woman I ever loved".
  • Incredibly Long Note: The final note of "The Winner Takes It All" is sung for as long as the actress playing Donna can hold it. One of the most notable performances was by Carolee Carmello, who played Donna in the Broadway production in the late 2000s.
    • Although not typically done in the number, Lea De Laria did one during the a capella intro of "Take a Chance on Me" in the 2017 Hollywood Bowl production, during which she would check her wrist and elicit cheers from the audience: "If you've got no place to goooooooooooooo..."
  • Jukebox Musical: A Gene Hunting plot on a Greek island with ABBA songs peppered in.
  • Jump Scare: In the original stage productions, a loud bang from the orchestra begins the Entr'acte, with absolutely no warning, as the house lights don't come down until partway through. This typically causes most of the audience to jump. Most amateur productions are courteous enough to bring down the house lights before the entr'acte begins, as is typical with musicals. The overture begins similarly, but is at least preceded with an announcement.
  • Mascot's Name Goes Unchanged: In many foreign adaptations of the stage musical, some of the characters' names are changed (e.g. Pepper is known as "Chili" in the Spanish productions), but Donna and Sophie's are always the same, although the latter's name sometimes has the spelling changed appropriately for the language (e.g. "Sofi" for the Spanish productions).
  • Medley Overture:
    • The overture begins with a riff from "Gimme! Gimme! Gimme!" overlapped with chords from "Summer Night City" (an ABBA song planned for the show but cut after its first previews). It then moves into the familiar intro of "Mamma Mia", followed by the first line of the chorus of "Lay All Your Love On Me", and an electric guitar intro to "Money, Money, Money". After this is a full chorus of "Knowing Me, Knowing You" with an upbeat rock theme (contrasting the mellow theme of the original ABBA song), followed by the last line of the chorus of "SOS". Next comes the familiar alternating notes intro to "Mamma Mia" once again. In live performances, this is followed by a full chorus of the song played on electric guitar backed by rapid upward synthesized scales. This part is cut on most cast recordings, but is included on the Swedish version and the non-replica Polish album from Roma Musical Theatre, as well as the backing tracks available from MTI for licensed productions. After the final "Mamma Mia" bit, the overture slows and quiets as it transitions to the prologue.
    • The much darker entr'acte similarly begins with the intro from "Gimme! Gimme! Gimme!", followed by a bit of the "Voulez Vous" intro. Much of the orchestration after this point is not based on any particular ABBA song, but various distorted vocal samples are heard throughout (some of which are from the original ABBA recordings), including "...Loose and fancy free... Time to breathe and time to live" from "Summer Night City", and "Won't somebody help me..." and "Is there a man out there?" from "Gimme! Gimme! Gimme!" (the former is first played in reverse, then forward). The intro to "Mamma Mia" is played as a sample of "Don't go wasting your emotion..." from "Lay All Your Love On Me" is heard, followed by the latter's chorus played on electric guitar. A brief part of the intro to "Does Your Mother Know?" is repeated a few times as the curtain rises and the "Summer Night City" line "Time to breathe and time to live" is heard once again, with the music then transitioning into "Under Attack". Amateur productions that use a live orchestra typically do not include the vocal samples as MTI does not include them with their provided keyboard programming, but they are included in the optional backing tracks. They were included in the Hollywood Bowl production as well, as that production had access to the original Broadway and tour productions' click tracks.
  • Once a Performance: There are two long pauses in the song "I Do, I Do, I Do" in which all eyes go to the character being exhorted to make the vows. At least one audience member will keep singing.
  • Only Known by Their Nickname: Pepper's name is implied to be a nickname; his real name is never mentioned. In the stage musical, Tanya takes a wild guess at its meaning.
    Tanya: Because you're hot?
    Eddie: No. Because he gets up your nose.
  • Pair the Spares: Not in a relationship sense, but in the stage musical, Tanya and Harry bow together and are often paired together for any dancing in the finale, because Sam/Donna and Bill/Rosie have paired off romantically. The same applies to the film. Earlier in the story, Rosie promises to keep the men distracted the day of the wedding, so she goes fishing with Bill while Tanya keeps Harry busy on the beach.
  • Paper Destruction of Anger: In the stage musical, Tanya and Rosie find an old poster for their girl group, Donna and the Dynamos. Donna enters the room in a frantic state. Her friends surprise her with the poster, but Donna, not wanting any more reminders of her past that has come back to haunt her, promptly rips and crumples it up after Rosie suggests displaying it in the taverna's bar.[[Note:Although the script calls for Donna to rip the poster, many amateur productions omit this action to avoid the expense of making multiple posters.]]
    Rosie: You should hang that in the bar. Show Sophie what a funky mom she's got.
    Donna: No! Get rid of it! Burn it! I never want to see it again!
  • Parental Sexuality Squick: Inverted when it comes to Sophie. She's delighted to read the details of her mother's sex life, albeit only because it provides her with details about her potential dads.
  • Poor Communication Kills:
    • The entire chain of misunderstandings running throughout the film is set up by Sophie inviting her three potential Dads to the wedding without telling anyone else, and insisting that they not tell anyone else that she invited them.
    • The movie's background is set up by young Sam leaving to return to his fiancee without telling Donna that he was only returning to call off the wedding and turn right around and come back to her. If he'd told her that before he left, presumably she'd have waited for him instead of shacking up with two other men on the rebound.
  • Power Trio: Actually four of them—Donna and the Dynamos; Sophie, Lisa and Ali; the three possible dads; and Sky, Pepper, and Eddie, at least in the stage version. In the film, Pepper and Eddie are not seen bonding with Sky as much as in the original production, and the latter is reduced to a background character with no lines.
  • Precision F-Strike:
    • Donna's line, "Holy shit!" when seeing the amount of Harry's check is the only profanity in the script. This is only in the script for American and licensed productions; in the UK and International Tour scripts, the line is, "Jesus, Mary, and Joseph!"
    • Sophie ends her "The Reason You Suck" Speech to Donna with "...because it's crap!" Some amateur productions opt to change the last word to "bullshit" to drive the point further.
  • Rash Promise: Act 1 ends with all three of Sophie's potential fathers realizing they might in fact be her father... without realizing there are two other candidates and that Sophie has no idea which one it is. They each separately promise to walk her down the aisle at her wedding in the heat of the bachelorette party, without giving Sophie time to explain. This leads to Sophie freaking out over having to choose and deciding to instead ask her mother to walk her down the aisle. The men initially get embarrassed when they realize they may not be Sophie's dad (and that Donna had sex with all three of them so closely together), but decide to graciously split the duties of being Sophie's dad.
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech: When Sophie thinks Donna wants to cancel the wedding, she goes off and promises not to repeat Donna's "mistakes".
    Donna: I'm not really pretending that I understand, but—
    Sophie: Of course you don't. You never did that whole marriage-and-babies thing. You just did the baby.
    Donna: What the hell is going on here? Why are you coming down on me?
    Sophie: I'm going to do it right, Mom. I love Sky and I want to be with him! And I don't want my children growing up not knowing who their father is, because it's crap!
  • Red Filter of Doom: Red lighting is often used during the song "Mamma Mia" to accompany Donna's anguish.
  • Remake Cameo: Tina Maddigan, the first actress to play Sophie in the Broadway production and its preceding tour, later played Donna in a professional production at the Holy Heart Theatre in St. John's, Newfoundland, Canada in August 2017. She was also slated to play Donna in a production at the New Theatre Restaurant in Overland Park, Kansas in July 2018, but had to back out due to losing her voice after an emergency surgery.
  • Reunion Show: In April 2019, the West End production celebrated its 20th anniversary. During the finale's reprise of "Dancing Queen", several former actresses who portrayed Donna, Tanya, and Rosie joined the current cast on stage, all wearing their respective character's jumpsuit. This included Siobhan McCarthy and Jenny Galloway, the original Donna and Rosie, respectively. Creator Judy Cramer took the stage after the number and made a heartfelt speech, during which she tearfully mentioned that the original Tanya, Louise Plowright, was not present due to her death from cancer in 2016.
  • Rousseau Was Right: Donna refuses to believe that having her three exes attending her daughter's wedding to be "a good thing" and goes out of her way to try to sabotage Sophie's invites and scare off her exes. Unsurprisingly, this only cause more conflict between Donna and her daughter Sophie.
  • Running Gag: Harry trying to insist that he is spontaneous, when he is anything but.
  • Sexy Discretion Shot: In-universe. Sophie has found her mother's diary from the summer when Sophie was conceived, and every time Donna is about to get intimate with one of the possible fathers, the narrative trails off with an ellipsis, read out loud by Sophie as "dot dot dot."
  • Shirtless Scene:
    • "Lay All Your Love On Me": Sky is stripped down to a speedo by the other guys during the song.
    • In the original stage productions, the entire male ensemble is shirtless during "Voulez Vous".
    • Harry has one in the stage musical during a beach scene when he emerges from the offstage water and asks Tanya for advice on what a bride's father should do at a wedding.
    • Sam, Bill, and Father Alexandrios are the only male characters who don't appear shirtless at any point in the show (although Sam and Bill do at various points in the film).
  • Shout-Out: "Bright, Harry Bright" (as James Bond is standing next to him, no less!)
    • After Harry gives Donna a check of an undisclosed sum for Sophie’s wedding, Donna looks at it, and comments that it would pay for "Four Weddings and a Funeral."
  • Sliding Scale of Idealism Versus Cynicism: Way toward the Idealism end. The three potential dads are all good men who are willing to step up, the Greek natives are all friendly and welcoming, there is No Antagonist, and everything works out neatly in the end.
  • Silly Song: Just how many of those songs actually advance the story or tell us something important about the characters?
  • Slut-Shaming: Averted! Donna slept with three different men in a short enough period of time that any of them could potentially be Sophie's father, but this isn't presented as a moral failing. Sophie would like to know who her father is, but she openly states that Donna could've slept with hundreds of men for all she cares. The only person who judges Donna for it is Donna's own mother, who is not part of her life — and, according to Donna's friends, was a deeply unpleasant woman, anyway.
  • Stealth Pun: Oh right, ha ha, those guys singing in the background are a Greek Chorus. Lampshaded by:
    Rosie: It's very Greek.
  • There Is Only One Bed: In the stage musical, Donna's room only has one bed, so Tanya and Rosie flip a coin for it. Rosie wins, and Tanya is forced to sleep on an air mattress, which she tries to blow up with her mouth. In the film, there are two beds, so this isn't a problem.
    Rosie: Blow, don't suck.
  • Titled After the Song: Named after the song "Mamma Mia".
  • Title Drop: They sing the title in the line "Mamma Mia, here I go again…". Plus the story is about a mother/daughter relationship and how it would be affected by the addition of another parent.
  • True Blue Femininity:
    • In the original stage productions, Donna's main outfit in Act I is a light blue shirt and denim blue overalls. She also wears a blue robe at the beginning of Act II. Sophie wears an all-blue outfit for most of Act I as well, consisting of a light blue crop top and dark blue tie-dye skirt.
    • Tanya and Rosie both wear white and blue outfits during the "Chiquitita" and "Dancing Queen" scene.
  • Undisclosed Funds: Harry gives Donna a check as part of a generous offer to pay for Sophie's wedding. The amount is never mentioned, but it's enough for Donna to gawk and comment that it would cover four weddings (and a funeral).
  • Unresolved Sexual Tension: Between Donna and her ex Sam, which lasts up until the ending.
  • Wacky Marriage Proposal: After Sky and Sophie decide not to get married yet, Sam decides to pop the question to Donna, with the crowd singing in chorus and all.
  • Wedding Finale: The end is supposed to be Sophie and Sky's wedding, but they call it off so rather than let it go to waste, Sam and Donna marry instead.
  • Who's Your Daddy?: The whole plot. Sophie trying to find out who her father is before her wedding day. Sophie eventually decides she doesn't care, though Word of God is that the father is Bill. Supported in-universe by his statement that the money Donna inherited from Bill's aunt "stayed in the family", although how his aunt could have known that when Donna didn't is anyone's guess.
    • It's possible that Sophie has some distinctive family traits she inherited that Donna wasn't aware of because Bill's Aunt was the only family member of his that she had met, and that the Aunt was married into the family, so didn't look like the rest of them. The Aunt worked it out because she did know what all the rest of the family looked like, and saw that Sophie looked similar.
  • Why Waste a Wedding?: Word for word when Sophie and Sky decide not to get married, thus Donna and Sam get married instead.
  • Wide-Eyed Idealist: Sophie.
  • You Are Fat: Since Rosie is typically played by a heavyset actress, one line has her making a self-deprecating joke about how she has outgrown her old Dynamos jumpsuit, telling Tanya, "I'll have to let out a few seams." If the actress playing Rosie is not heavy enough for the joke to work, the script offers an alternative line: "I can wear this... as an eyepatch."